Shake it Up Part 1: I'm Going Down Under

Written by: Barbara

I didn’t have this on my radar: Christmas music playing in the background of my one bedroom apartment in Minneapolis with a lonely glass of Cabernet sitting patiently in a white wine glass on the table I purchased for $150 and might last another year. Outside the window, snow is falling gently onto my Toyota Corolla parked on the street side and covered in bird shit.

When I moved to Minnesota 3 years ago for my (now ex) fiance, I didn’t know really what I wanted or how I wanted to get there.

“Excuse me, ma’am. You’ll have to bring your animals this way.” There was a large black woman gesturing to me and my aforementioned ex-fiance . We were standing in a long and painfully slow line at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. In one hand I was clutching a carry on suitcase with a wiggly back wheel. In the other, a black carrier case with my tabby cat, Benson. In his hand was his own carrier with a delicate Abyssinian named Isis.

We were instructed to stand and wait as the TSA agent found someone to inspect our animal carriers. Unexpectedly, she yelled across the conveyor belts and X-ray machines: “Hey! Anyone here do cats!

There was a groan, a “oh hell no,” and a “you ain’t getting those things near me.” Benson and Isis both wriggled in their cases, meowing sadly. Twenty minutes later, the cats were inspected, only Benson’s name was revealed, and we were on our way.

Minneapolis was my tenth move in five years.

I grew up in western Massachusetts to two very Catholic parents who decided to have twelve children.

My dad was a converted Protestant who met my mom on his baptism day in his early 20’s. My mom was a dedicated Catholic and attended mass daily. She approached my father after the ceremony to congratulate him and welcome him to the faith. Less than a year later, they married.

When my father was in college, before meeting my mother, he had a roommate with a huge family. My dad was drawn to them and the family’s catholic faith. Once he found my mother, they were able to make that reality together and have 12 kids of their own.

My childhood was filled with all kinds of annoying Catholic things: early Sunday morning mass, long car rides filled with the repetitious recitation of the rosary, cheek pinching from little old church ladies, bible camps, abortion rallies in DC and denouncing gays and balking at the idea of female priests or ministers.

When I was about 10 years old, I told my mom that I wanted to be a ballerina and travel all over the world. I had pictures of Italy and France and Portugal and Spain photo copied from books from the library and stashed in my dresser drawer. I remember (in that flawed-human-memory-kind-of-way) she told me: there are only two choices for women. You can be a Mommy or a Nun.

All of my adolescence, I chewed on these beliefs: that Catholicism is the Truth, that women have a designated place as homemakers and mothers, that dedication to religious practices trumped all. I knew I wanted more than what my mother suggested. I wanted to be a woman with a voice and with it, positive power. I wanted to love and accept all, regardless of beliefs, sexual orientation, or choices made.

Because, well, of love.

This year, one of my instructors in my Masters program took me by the shoulders and told me, “Barbara, some people thrive from change.” In that moment, I realized that I was bound to zip from one place to the next. I was bound to the art of change in order to learn, grow, and realize my potential and the potential of others, especially women.

And so, to the tune of Christmas music and swallowing down the final drop of a Cabernet, I got the fresh “shake it up” message from my friend, Bridget.

Bridget was fresh off of another breakup. This time, she was going to Australia and would I go with her?

My heart screamed: YES.

It was a change I wasn’t even aware I was looking for, an adventure I wanted to have, the catalyst for something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on but I knew it was necessary. Price tag and all. It was a change, a sabbatical, that beckoned me to shed the weightiness of my childhood, embrace my womanhood completely. A change that would help me with my ever-shifting perspective of reality.

Life offers many pivot points. Opportunities to say yes, I am going to do this. Or opportunities to mutter, no, I am quite safe where I am. This upcoming trip to Australia feels like that kind of pivot.

There are 3 distinct and clear intentions to my trip:

To embrace self-forgiveness: I am not my parent’s beliefs and I am not my past. I am simply me.

To let go and let it be: The world moves forward in beautiful, remarkable ways if we allow it.

To say Yes: Operate from a place of love, and not fear or self-sabotage or regret.

The end result honestly does not matter: it is the breadth of the journey with my co-traveler Bridget, the content of the adventure, the thrill of going to the other side of the world where the toilets flush the opposite way and the sun may have a brighter way of beaming.  

So here I am.

A displaced, misplaced once-Catholic now-Agnostic writer and health coach on her way to Australia with the intention to let go and let it be. Because we cannot dwell in the past or within the expectations of others. Because we all can change, grow, and evolve.

I choose to pack my bags and see what the world can teach me next.